Smaller APAC telcos innovate to compete

Tier two and three mobile operators in Asia-Pacific bank on innovative services to grow, says market player, who adds Singapore telcos can do more.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Tier two and three mobile operators in the Asia-Pacific region are banking on innovative services to grow their subscriber base, according to an industry player, who says Singapore operators can do more in this respect.

Tan Choon Seng, Asia-Pacific vice president of sales and co-head at Convergys Singapore, told ZDNet Asia in an interview smaller telcos in the region have been quicker to implement new customer services to stay competitive.

Referring to Indonesia's PT Hutchison as an example, Tan said the operator has demonstrated agility in offering subscribers different services compared to competitors. For example, it offers loyalty schemes to new customers "before they even [activate] their SIM cards". The objective is to upgrade customers in pre-paid segments into longer term subscribers, he said. Convergys is an operations support systems/business support systems (OSS/BSS) provider.

As a result of such efforts, Hutchison's subscriber base jumped from 200 to 7 million within two years after the Indonesian arm of Hutchison Telecom was set up, he said. "Smaller operators need to act and think differently," Tan said.

Singapore's operators, on the other hand, as players in a saturated developed market, are not driven by such aggressive growth aspirations, he said, but noted the need for these companies to still consider new services to offer.

"Operators here can do a better job" of implementing more innovative tools, such as consolidated billing, he added. While such features may "seem minor", they offer a way to differentiate from the competition and the impact on the operator's business is cumulative, Tan said.

Jean-Herve Jenn, executive vice president of client development at Convergys, added that service staples such as product catalogs, still require a refresh to keep up with new trends. Triple-play operators, in particular, need the ability to offer more "sophisticated bundles", compared to operators offering "single products", he said.

Operators can also find new ways to slice up the market and provide more targeted offers, said Jenn. The "rudimentary" segmentation of enterprise and consumer customer bases could be further partitioned by age, he said. This, for instance, will allow service providers to push specific bundles to elderly consumers requiring home-surveillance products, creating more market opportunity, he added.

For Convergys, today, the market potential is in the migration from voice to data revenues, said Jenn. Operators looking to ride the data wave are seeking new data billing modules to augment their backend systems, he said.

ARPU balancing act
But, for operators, it is not simply a matter of tacking new services. Telcos face the dilemma of wanting to stay ahead of the game while predicting what users want, said Robert Lento, Convergys' president of information management.

The telco industry is one where it is "difficult to see a clear path forward", Lento said, adding that operators have to invest in introducing new value-added services "because you assume the competition will", while at the same time, hope the investment will pay off.

He said a new bundled service may lower average revenue per user (ARPU), but serve to attract more subscribers overall. Carriers have to see if the drop in ARPU can be justified by the growth in subscribers--a task more daunting in saturated markets that have little room to grow, he explained. He noted that operators in mature markets are typically more cautious, compared to their peers in emerging markets.

"The profitability of a carrier in the United States may not be any greater than the profitability of a carrier in Indonesia. They just find different ways to do business," he said.

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